The mainstream public’s appetite for adventure films and documentary style features has never been more well catered for than is currently the case. Jimmy Chin’s epic film, Free Solo, about fearless climbing whiz Alex Honnold has reached audiences far and wide and escalated the art of extreme filmmaking to the Oscar’s party in 2019. In the modern age of all-pervasive digital image capture and the YouTube generation showcasing ever more daring exploits to the masses, one might be forgiven for deeming the market saturated. However, there is a group of individuals pushing boundaries in impressive ways and in new territories that one might have not expected. In the relatively compact and ‘small scale’ wilderness regions that still tenuously retain their hold against the encroaching landscape of the UK, these adventurers are pushing the envelope in the hazardous realm of BASE jumping.
One typically thinks of Norwegian or Swiss big cliffs, or the canyonlands of Utah as the natural realm of the BASE athlete. The iconic natural features found in these regions allow for exhilarating free fall opportunities and long canopy rides across vast landscapes. But there is a secret about to unfold, that actually here in the UK there is a wealth of equally spectacular sites where an unsung community of individuals is quietly pushing the boundaries of this extreme pursuit. If you know where to look.
In fact a misconception of the sport is that one needs a huge sheer wall in order to confidently plunge over the cliff edge with sufficient margin for safety. Sheer is good, but you might be surprised at how feasible it is to jump from much lower height features. Albeit frequently in still epic surroundings. With the assistance of pilot chute, occasional static line openings, and actually the odd bit of freefall, there is a wealth of options to tap into the marvels that are to be found if you know where to look.
I first came to appreciate this when I met Josh (@MountainManBase) scouting for exits on the precipitous slopes of the Great Orme, near Llandudno in North Wales. As with many people, I had no idea that anyone would even contemplate jumping at such low altitude, or that in fact there were cliffs sheer enough. And I had spent the summer doing some sea cliff climbing in these parts, or to be more accurate, practising rope ascension techniques on this spectacular stretch of coastline. I was fascinated and intrigued to witness Josh in action, and captured my first shot of his new exit, around 120ft or so drop, his whooping shouts of excitement as the canopy opened and he sailed out of site to the grassy slopes that abut the crashing waves. And so was born an opportunity to pursue our combined interests further: my foray into the world of adventure photography, putting into practice my rope-rigging techniques, and giving me the impetus to get into exhilarating positions on the cliff edges (and below) alongside. To be privileged to share in the moment of the jump, and to attempt to convey through image capture what it is like to leap out into the unknown and pioneer new jump exits.
Since then I have accompanied Josh and his colourful band of associates on various jumps across the British Isles. I will elaborate in due course on my observations from a photographer’s point of view as well as in my capacity as the ‘CognitivExplorer’, with research interests in the psychology of extreme sports performance, seeking to understand how the brain operates under stress in extreme environments…